My first Europe trip and I was looking for a day trip from Paris. Brussels fit the bill perfectly. 1hr 30 mts by train, seemed like an ideal getaway. Tickets for 49 euro were booked online and received a hard copy by courier. I boarded the Eurostar at Gare du Nord on a bright and sunny morning and set off for Belgium. The train was super quick, however, did not offer any picturesque scenery as I had imagined but mostly plain fields and farm houses. At Brussels South which is where the outstation trains terminate called Brussel Zuid (Dutch) Bruxelles-Midi (French), had to change trains and get to the Brussels Central which is the CBD. It took me ‘n’ number of searches on google to figure out, that all the 3 names mean the same place !! The perils of solo travel !! With no signboard in English, it was challenging to get to Central.
Plan was to do a Bus tour, spend all day with hop on and hop off travellers. Since there was no hotel reservation, the bus seemed like the ideal place for a short nap after sightseeing. Luck was in my favour and found a guy selling tickets for the bus tour right outside Brussels Central station. There are two routes, each takes about 2-3 hours. I chose the Blue one first – Atominium, Manneken Pis, and Grand Place route. The bus would drop me back at the station and then could take the route 2, which would then cover Royal Palace and European Parliament. For 25 Euro’s, this seemed value for money. Most of the historic monuments are within 2-3 km radius, but Atominium and Mini Europe are outside the city.
The National Basilica looked impressive. A massive brick and concrete church with two slim towers and a green copper dome, dominating the skyline of Brussels. The terracotta layers give it a unique feel. The colour of the dome was something that really stood out.Belgian painter Anto Carte (1886–1954) designed the eight stained glass windows representing the life of Jesus.
The Atomium, the Eiffel Tower of Brussels’ is a landmark attraction, a gigantic steel “molecule” with escalators connecting the 9 “atoms,” there are fun space-age videos, and an astonishing view from the top sphere. A long queue to access the elevator to reach the topmost sphere and a restaurant atop it all. If you’re scared of heights like me, click a selfie from the ground.
Next to Atominium is “Mini Europe”. It has miniature models of monuments in Europe at a scale of 1:25. Roughly 80 cities and 350 buildings. It is definitely worth clicking a selfie with the miniatures, which are actually quite big.
And now to the mascot of Brussels, a fountain statue of a little boy who ………(fill in the blanks). I had read so much this Bronze statue that was put in place in 1618 or 1619.The statue is dressed in costumes according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. The bus dropped us at the main road and we followed the signboard that pointed towards a narrow cobbled stone lane. There were shops selling souvenirs and waffles. This seemed like a touristy place. 1 Euro waffles looked tempting.
It’s a feeling almost every traveller has been through. When you’re planning the trip, make a list of “must see” around a city. And when you actually get there, the first reaction is “ Really, Is that it?!?”.
“Busloads of tourists around a small statue of a peeing boy? That too a really small statue !!!
I had to have some cream and choco chips waffles to get over that heavy disappointment. Not that I ever was a waffles lover, but this was way too much to handle. The lure of 1 Euro was immediately transformed into a shock of disbelief when the shop keeper asked 4 Euros for my cream topping. Tourist traps ..Beware !!!
The Grand–Place is right across the street, the central square of the City of Brussels. It’s truly one of the most beautiful squares in the world. A UNESCO heritage site that consists of the Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville), a Gothic building and the architectural masterpiece of the square; Breadhouse (Maison du Roi) which houses the Museum of the City of Brussels, and several opulent guild halls.Every two years in August, an enormous “flower carpet” with a million colourful begonias are set up here. Reminds me of Onam Pookkalam. So far away from our lil Kerala, yet a striking resemblance of cultures. The cobbled stone walkways and the horse carriage here gives a royal feeling. I wish I could stay back until night to see the place lit up beautifully. But it’s time to move on.
Being the Beer capital of the world, Belgium has hundreds of breweries and offers a wide variety of Beers (around 800 different flavours). The fresh water sources are abundant in this terrain and that’s what makes it special for the Breweries. If you are not short on time, you could check some of the Museums of Belgian Brewers.
Brussels is one of the greenest European cities with a multitude of parks and gardens. And this journey through the Cinquantenaire is littered with beautiful buildings, tall trees, free chaise longues, a beautiful fountain and waffle vans. The best picnic spots are here around Leopold park or Josaphat Park. A quick stroll along the Royal Palace. It’s a ‘Square of the Palaces’ in because there is another palace on the left side of the Royal Palace and there is the Brussels Park.
Lovely sidewalks everywhere but that makes it pretty difficult to walk even with flats on these cobble stones, forget stilettos. And when you are a tourist, you are walking pretty much all day. Time to hop on to the bus and relax a bit and Head to the next destination.
The European Parliament – Often considered the de facto capital of the Europe, the parliament buildings are worth a visit. Be it visiting the hemicycle or exploring the Parlamentarium, there are a few activities to explain how the European Parliament works, where it came from and what it does for citizens etc. And are free of charge which is a plus point for me.
My last stop was supposed to be, AutoWorld – Who doesn’t like vintage cars? A museum that has 350 vintage European and American automobiles from the late 19th century. Admission is 10 euro. Now, this what is sad about all these amazing museums. Why do they charge for entry? Maybe, there should be two options, one for the solo travellers like me and another for the rich tourists. Who said, life is fair ?? I am gonna have to skip it, something for next time.
Gota catch my Eurostar to Paris before it gets late. A quick meal before I board, the best so far. Belgian Frites.While you’re in Belgium, don’t call em “French fries.” Belgian fries (“frites”) taste sooo good because they’re deep-fried not once but twice — once to cook, and then again to turn them crispy and get that lovely golden colour. The locals dunk them in mayonnaise… delicious if the mayo is flavoured with garlic. Yummm..It truly heavenly.
The architecture, parks and green spaces, an unbelievable variety of chocolates, waffles, frites, and beer will have you never wanting to leave this place.
Planning for a Europe trip? feel free to ask me questions you may have in the comment section below.